The Tuesday Stew: Peyton Manning’s Comeback, Ray Lewis’s Legacy, and More
Welcome back football fans to a weekly column served hot and fresh every week, NFL Soup’s Tuesday Stew. This week’s edition is an epic portion, highlighting the biggest stories of Week 6, as well as touching on the greatness of two of football’s biggest legends. So sit back, relax, and fill up on everything that is football.
Without further haste, it’s time to dish out all the action and serve up this week’s stew:
Touchdown: Six Points On Week 6
1. The Champs Are Still The Champs
In a rematch of last year’s NFC Championship Game, the New York Giants dismantled the San Francisco 49ers 26-3, proving that they’re the defending Super Bowl champions for a reason. The front four of the Giants defensive line sent a message to the rest of the league, stating that if you can’t beat them, you can’t beat the Giants.
The Giants defense also exploited the weaknesses of Alex Smith as a quarterback, and the questions of whether or not he’s the man for the 49ers are already mounting. Smith was under constant pressure, being sacked four times and also throwing three interceptions. We all know that the strength of their team is in the running game and defense, but when down two or three scores in the third quarter, the running game is almost completely abandoned. And when the passing game isn’t working and drives are short, opposing offenses are going to wear down the defense (which is exactly what the Giants did).
Meanwhile, Eli Manning continued to be Eli Manning–nothing spectacular, but efficient and mistake-free. He completed 15-of-28 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown, but more importantly, didn’t turn the ball over and wasn’t sacked at all. Manning truly is elite, and makes the plays when they need to be made. After all, there’s a reason why he’s a two-time Super Bowl champion.
2. New Patriots, Same Problems
After a 2011 season that featured dismal defensive play, especially in the secondary, the New England Patriots aimed to improve their defense by selecting six of their seven draft picks this offseason on that side of the ball. However, though head coach Bill Belichick revamped the Patriots defense, they still suffer from the same problems.
Seattle Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson threw for 293 yards on 16-of-27 passing, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. His third touchdown pass, a game-winning 46-yard bomb to wide receiver Sidney Rice, gashed the Patriots secondary, exposing the coverage flaws in a sub-par defensive unit.
Watch the play in this video from a camera in the stands (it actually shows the play perfectly). At the top of the Seahawks’ formation, Rice is split out wide and is the only receiver on that side. The Patriots are playing a zone, and Rice gets basically a free release from the cornerback before splitting the safeties deep shell coverage with a perfectly executed double move before Wilson delivers a beautiful throw for the score. Rice essentially beat three defensive backs and was wide open deep down the middle of the field that was unoccupied by the Patriots coverage.
3. The Pack Is Back
Coming into Sunday night’s game, the Green Bay Packers were a mediocre 2-3 and the Houston Texans were a dominant 5-0. But the way this game played out, it all seemed like it was the other way around.
The story of this game was Packers quarterback and reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers absolutely shredding the Texans defense with surgical precision. He threw for 338 yards on 24-of-37 passing, with six touchdowns (tying a franchise-record) and no interceptions.
Rodgers looked everything like his MVP play last season after a slow start to this year, and it was all without star wide receiver Greg Jennings and starting running back Cedric Benson.
But not only did Rodgers and the Packers offense take it to the Texans, the defense also dominated this game. Even with their fair share of injuries, they picked off Texans quarterback Matt Schaub twice (and T.J. Yates once late in the game), but made an even bigger statement in completely shutting down running back Arian Foster, arguably the best in the game at his position. Foster gained just 29 yards on 17 carries, for an average of 1.7 yards per rush; this was only the second time in his career that he averaged under two yards per carry.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the Texans are still a great football team and one of the best in the NFL. But against the Packers, the Texans made mistakes uncharacteristic of them. On the Packers first offensive drive, an offsides penalty on DeVier Posey negated what would’ve been a punt, and Rodgers took advantage of the opportunity, hitting wideout Jordy Nelson for a touchdown on the very next play for a 7-0 lead. Then in the third quarter down 21-10, a leaping penalty on Connor Barwin erased a Mason Crosby field goal and extended the Packers’ drive. A few plays later, safety Daniel Manning lost his cool and got a personal foul penalty that took away a stop on third down. Rodgers once again took advantage of the second opportunity, throwing another touchdown to Nelson to make it a three-score game at 28-10.
These kind of penalties drive coaches crazy as they can be the difference in a win or loss. And against a quarterback of Rodgers’ caliber, and a Packers team with their season basically on the line, they completely change the momentum of the game. These are the kind of mistakes that can keep a team from playing deep into January, or even February.
4. And Then There Was One
The Atlanta Falcons 23-20 win over the Oakland Raiders wasn’t pretty, but a win’s a win, and now they are the NFL’s only unbeaten team at 6-0. Credit has to be given to the Raiders though, who gave the Falcons everything they had, forcing quarterback Matt Ryan into throwing three interceptions. The Raiders defense played impressively, holding the Falcons high-powered offense in check for the majority of the game, particularly in the second half.
But in that second half, the Falcons made the plays that great teams make, finding a way to win even when their best players and unit are struggling. Down 13-7 at halftime, the Falcons scored 16 points off defense and special teams to propel them to victory. Two Matt Bryant field goals tied the game at 13 going into the fourth quarter, setting the stage for a thrilling finish. Cornerback Asante Samuel made a great read on Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer, jumping the route and intercepting the ball, which he then returned for a touchdown, giving the Falcons a 20-13.
However, the Raiders would respond on the ensuing drive, tying the game up at 20 apiece with just 40 seconds left to play. That’s when Ryan, who had struggled most of the game, made the necessary plays to give his team a chance to win in regulation, driving down the field to give Bryant a chance at a game-winning 55-yard field goal. Overtime appeared evident when Bryant missed the field goal, but, it didn’t matter anyway because Raiders head coach Dennis Allen called a timeout just before the snap to “ice” Bryant. And of course, since this practice never works, Bryant made the next kick and kept the Falcons loss column unblemished.
5. Ravaged Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens managed to escape with a 31-29 win over the Dallas Cowboys, but their losses in that game may be inescapable.
Linebacker Ray Lewis, the team’s undisputed emotional leader, left the game with an injury, as did cornerback Lardarius Webb. On Monday, both players underwent MRIs and the results were heart-wrenching–both Lewis and Webb are out for the season. Lewis has a complete triceps tear and Webb has a torn ACL.
Though that’s the worst of the Ravens’ injuries woes, it’s not the end of them. Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun reports that defensive tackle Haloti Ngata suffered minor MCL damage in his right knee, but according to the report, it’s essentially a “sprained knee.” Though Wilson says that Ngata is expected to play against the Texans next week, it wouldn’t be surprising if head coach John Harbaugh decides to rest him. At this point, it isn’t wise to take a chance with another key piece to the Ravens defense and risk further injury.
Lastly, linebacker and 2011 Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs is eligible to come off of the team’s physically unable to perform (PUP) list this week, according to Jason Butt of CBSSports.com. However, he doesn’t have to be removed from the PUP list, and the Ravens actually have another three weeks before he has to either take a roster spot or be put on injured reserve. Even if he is taken off the PUP list this week, it’s doubtful he’ll even practice, let alone play.
Going into the 2012 season, the Ravens were poised to make another run at the Super Bowl. Though it’s still very possible because of their offense, which is the driving force that carries the team, their losses on defense may be too much for Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and Co. to overcome.
6. Peyton Manning’s Monday Night Madness
Well, this is why John Elway dumped Tim Tebow in favor of Peyton Manning, the NFL’s only four-time MVP.
Manning and Denver Broncos were absolutely dominated by the San Diego Chargers in every aspect of football during the first half of Monday Night Football. The Chargers recovered two Broncos special teams fumbles and returned a Manning interception for a touchdown en route to building a 24-0 halftime lead. It appeared that Manning was going to suffer his fifth loss in six games against Philip Rivers and the Chargers.
But, football consists of two halves, not one.
The roles completely reversed in the second half; Manning picked apart the Chargers defense for three touchdowns and the Broncos defense forced six turnovers from Rivers, returning two for touchdowns. A 24-point deficit at halftime ended with a 35-24 victory when the clock hit zero to end the fourth quarter, adding yet another chapter and historic comeback to Manning’s illustrious, Hall-of-Fame career. At the same time, it was another epic collapse to a Chargers team that has underachieved for years. Lastly, it was another manic Monday night game in the 2012 NFL season.
The Extra Point: Football’s A Full Sixty Minutes
It’s perhaps the biggest cliché in all of football: it’s not over until it’s over. How many times have you witnessed a football game where a team holds what appears to be an insurmountable lead, just to see the other team come back and win? How many times have you witnessed it in recent years? How many times have you witnessed it this year?
In Week 2, the Buccaneers led the Giants 27-13 near the end of the third quarter. The Giants won 41-34. In Week 3, the Saints led the Chiefs 24-6 midway through third quarter. The Chiefs won 27-24 in overtime. In Week 5, the Packers led the Colts 21-3 at halftime. The Colts won 30-27. Sunday, the Patriots led the Seahawks 23-10 midway through the fourth quarter. The Seahawks won 24-23. And of course there was Monday night’s Broncos-Chargers game. Now, there’s probably a few others from this season that I’m missing, but I think you get the picture.
It’s crazy the way football works, and how one play can completely change the momentum of a game and be the catalyst of an epic comeback victory. That’s why no lead is ever truly safe. That’s why football is a full sixty minutes of play. That’s why it’s never over until it’s over.
Food For Thought: Ray Lewis’ Legacy
After growing up watching Ray Lewis play, and seeing his career hang in the balance with his season-ending injury, I didn’t know how to start this off. Where to start with a player who has transcended greatness throughout his entire career and has been as fun to watch as any player in football history?
That’s when ESPN’s Tom Jackson summed it up for me on Monday Night Countdown. In the case of the greatest linebackers of all time, Jackson says that, “There are two names that come to mind: Dick Butkus and Ray Lewis. There’s great play, there’s Hall of Fame play, and then there’s legendary play. And [Ray Lewis] is legendary.”
“As long as they play football,” continues Jackson, “as long as the NFL is around, Ray Lewis’ name is going to keep being mentioned with middle linebackers.”
It couldn’t have been said any better. Lewis’ dominant play and historic accolades over his 17-year career are enough by themselves to put him in the greatest of all time discussion. Thirteen Pro Bowls, 10 All-Pro selections (seven being first team), two Defensive Player of the Year awards (2000, 2003), named a first team linebacker to the 2000s All-Decade Team, and a championship in Super Bowl XXXV, in which he was the game’s MVP.
However, these career accolades aren’t the reason Lewis is a football legend and one of the greatest of all time. It’s Lewis’ leadership and passion–two traits that have brought out the best in not only him, but everyone else around him–which he will be remembered for. No player in the history of football has been more inspiring than Lewis. If this is the end of Lewis’ career, it’s a loss to anyone who loves the game of football. Every single game he’s played over his career has been played with that same inspirational leadership and passion, which is why he’s been as exciting as anyone to watch.
There will never be another Ray Lewis as long as football is played. And whenever his name is mentioned, everyone will immediately think of a legend.
That is the legacy Ray Lewis leaves to the game of football.